INTERVIEW – IT WASN’T THE RIGHT MOUNTAIN, MOHAMMAD

Like in your previous project, How glorious it is to be a human being (FID 2019), you play the lead in the film. Except this time, you become an animated character. Why this technique, and why combining it with a story from the Bible?

Playing the lead is one of my main guiding principles, at least for now. I do not know enough about the world yet to have a “truth” to tell, so it is a research process, and it seems sensible to focus it on myself.

The film was made while I was on the Fresnoy training programme. On the second year of the programme, participants are strongly encouraged to work with new technologies.

I knew right from the start that my film might use God as a character, so I asked the adviser of Le Fresnoy which technology would be best suited to create a film featuring God, that would also be true to my own style as a director – a woman wandering the world at random with a camera. The answer was 3D, and later on, more precisely – a video game. With the help of Le Fresnoy, Max Simbula and Alexis Hallaert, I created a customised video game to tell that story. The shooting consisted in playing the characters and recording the screen. The game stemmed from the necessity of conveying the documentary aspects and the random factors into another form, using new technologies.

It was both exciting and tragic, because I could not run the experiment the way I used to. I mean, I could not say that I was making a film, get out into the world and let it do as it pleased with my film. This time, I had to be myself, but also the world itself at the same time, because it did not exist yet, I had to make it from scratch.

I guess it makes sense to turn to the Bible when you are facing such a challenge. After all, the Bible does include a few recipes to create a world.

 

In your version of the Bible story, the sacrifice of Isaac becomes the final episode of another story, that of Mili wandering with her flock in the desert. What was the purpose of that detour?

Actually, at first, I thought that since this challenge made me reconsider everything I knew about my skills as a director, why not get rid of my character altogether and really start from scratch?

I intended to tell the story of the sacrifice of Isaac through the perspective of the ram that was killed instead of the boy. But the more I studied this incredible story, the more I realised that I did not have the courage to go down that road. So, the only solution that made sense to me was to scan myself and become an avatar. I tried to imagine what would have happened to me had I been there, on mount Moriah, at the time of the sacrifice.

It also seemed logical for me to be a shepherdess, because that is actually a dream of mine, and it was also what my ancestors used to do. I mean, my biblical ancestors.

It reminds me that in How glorious it is to be a human being, I had planned to shoot the film from the perspective of the donkey, Bambu. But this plan did not work out either when faced with reality.

 

You tell the story partly in epistolary fashion, with messages addressed to Mohammad. Why choosing this device, and who is Mohammad?

Although I was spending days on end in the dark, both mentally and physically (in a computer room), there was still space for the universe to intervene in my story and my creation.

Now, while I was building my own version of Canaan in the north of France, one day my parents went for their morning run on the beach in Israel.

They always pick up the garbage they come across to put it in a bin. But in one of the plastic bottles they found a letter.

This note, written in Arabic, was from a man called Mohammad.

He simply thanked God in his letter.

I was struck by this gesture. It was completely absurd. But I have learnt from scholars, like Kierkegaard, that the “absurd” is the foundation of an act of faith. In Fear and Trembling, Abraham is the knight of faith, because he believes in the virtue of the absurd. He follows God’s terrible order, while knowing that one way or another, the boy can be saved.

At first, I kept this event in my heart and only used it in an aesthetic way, by putting many bottles with letters in my artificial sea. But in the end, when the game was ready, I had no idea how to make a film out of it.

And then Mohammad came back, and I decided to write him a letter, through the film, because he had inspired me to follow this absurd act of creating something that I had never experienced in my own life, and to believe that somehow, it would make sense.

 

Why did you substitute the ram from the Bible with a herd of antelopes, that your character calls “rams” anyway?

It was simply a stroke of bad luck.

Initially, I had bought a beautiful 3D model of a ram. It had golden horns and a glorious, white and fuzzy coat of wool. But when Alexis, the programmer, and I imported the ram into Unity, the software we used for the game, the ram lost his wool. It was not compatible with our platform.

Then I desperately searched the web for a successor. I found a company that creates beautiful animals for video games and asked them if they had a ram, by any chance. It happened that they were about to release such a model! They said it would be ready within a week! But it lasted for months and I just could not wait any longer.

So, the closest thing I could find was a not so great antelope, but I figured that maybe it was what the film wanted, and I gave in. Yet the story is about a ram, what could I do?

 

This year, you have been developing a project at FIDLab. Can you tell us about more about it, and explain how It Wasn’t the Right Mountain, Mohammad comes within the scope of this wider project?

Quite easily:

I am working on a series of CGI films, created out of a video game platform, about the adventures of Mili Pecherer in the world of biblical myths.

 

 

Interviewed by Nathan Letoré